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West African bishops start fund for displaced Burkina Faso residents

Tens of thousands have been displaced due to the ongoing conflict in the West African nation of more than 20 million people

Protestors face security forces firing tear gas during a demonstration in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, on Nov. 27, 2021

Protestors face security forces firing tear gas during a demonstration in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, on Nov. 27, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 28, 2022 06:11 AM GMT

Updated: May 28, 2022 06:51 AM GMT

Sitting in front of her tent in a camp for Burkina Faso residents displaced from their homes, Christine Yangane cried out for food for her children, whom she said had gone for days without any meal.

"My children want to eat, but I have no food. They keep crying because they are hungry," the 39-year-old mother of five said at the camp in Dori, Burkina Faso. "Since we came here, life has been difficult. We don't have enough bedding, water, clothes and hygiene kits, and our children are not going to school."

Yangane and her children escaped death early this year when gunmen, suspected Islamists, raided her section of Dori in the middle of the night and slaughtered dozens of residents, including her husband.

"My husband was not lucky. He was murdered outside the house while trying to protect us from the attackers. I was forced to take refuge to save myself and children from further attacks," she said.

Her story is similar to tens of thousands of residents who have been displaced due to the ongoing conflict in the West African nation of more than 20 million people. The situation has prompted church leaders to mobilize funds and aid to assist those facing difficulties due to the conflict.

According to the International Crisis Group, the landlocked country has experienced many challenges. The nation experienced a military coup that left dozens of people killed early this year. Violent extremist groups are increasingly launching attacks throughout the country, particularly in the regions bordering Mali and Niger. Farmers and herders are going hungry, and their animals are dying due to climate change.

Since 2015 when the conflict began, hundreds of Christians have been murdered because of their faith, dozens kidnapped, thousands displaced, and hundreds of churches closed due to security issues and the threat of attack, according to a 2019 report from the U.S. State Department.

The most recent attack was on Marianite Sister Suellen Tennyson, 83, who had worked in the country since 2014. She was abducted by gunmen in Yalgo in early April, and her whereabouts remain unknown.

"These are some of the challenges we are going through as a country. People of this country are suffering due to the conflict," said Father Moussa Welgo, a priest of the Diocese of Dori.

He said the situation has escalated recently, and victims of the conflict need help. "As a church, we have said that we cannot sit and watch our people dying. We have come together to fundraise money, food, clothes, blankets and other necessities to help people facing crises in our country.

"We have sensitized our congregants to contribute whatever they have to help the vulnerable people in the camps," he told Catholic News Service. "We do the fundraising in our churches across the country every week on Sunday, so that we can reach many victims."

Catholic bishops in Burkina Faso and neighboring countries also have developed a solidarity fund known as Alfred Diban Catholic Solidarity Fund (FCSAD) to help refugees and people facing crises.

Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of Dori said his northeastern region had been the most affected by terrorist attacks. He said jihadists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group had targeted civilians and soldiers through kidnappings and execution.

"We need your prayers. The situation is getting worse every day. You cannot walk freely in Dori because of the fear of attack from terrorists," he said. "The conflict has left residents suffering, as most are in refugee camps. Others are in pain of losing their loved ones and properties."

Bishop Dabiré, president of the Bishops' Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, said FCSAD was an initiative by the Catholic Church to show compassion and assist those people facing various challenges due to the ongoing conflict in the country. Church leaders established the fund to ensure resources are always available in case of crises.

"The fund aims to show the compassion, charity and mercy of the Catholic Church in Burkina Faso to people and communities facing crises, both inside and outside Burkina Faso," Bishop Dabiré said in a statement March 10. He said the fund would be "used to support and care for victims of natural disasters, food and nutritional crises, socio-political crises, epidemics, etc."

Bishop Dabiré told CNS the money is being raised by Christians throughout the parishes in the country and outside. He also said various religious institutions and donors are contributing to the fund.

Yangane said her children might die if help does not come through soon. "We need to be helped because we have nothing. We will just die because of hunger," she said.

Meanwhile, some Catholics living in the northern part of the country are complaining of being targeted by jihadists during attacks.

Mariam Mare, a Christian living in a displaced people's camp in Dori, said her two brothers were murdered last October because they were Christians.

Mare said terrorists arrived in their village and began collecting taxes that included cows, money, and food from every home. They asked if people were Christian or a Muslim, she said, adding that all Christians except a few who escaped were murdered and their animals impounded.

According to a U.S. Department of State report, Christians constitute approximately 23% of the country's population, with Catholics representing 19% and various Protestant groups 4%. However, most of the population in northern Burkina Faso is Muslim at 95.2%, while Catholics stand at 1.2%.

"We are living in fear of attacks because of our faith," said Mare. "The terrorists are now targeting Christians and churches. It's difficult for one to pray or even say you are a Christian."

*Contributing to this story was Allan Kabore in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

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